ST. GEORGE — A new study sheds light on the importance of street design, especially as it relates to traffic and pedestrian safety.

In Utah, from 2019 to 2022, the number of traffic deaths increased by almost 30%, according to the National Transportation Research Project.

Shima Hamidi, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Center for Climate-Smart Transportation, helped lead the study. It may sound counterintuitive, she said, but shrinking lane widths of 11 or 12 feet down to nine feet can help reduce traffic collisions.

“What we found in this study — which is a national study of more than 1,100 streets in the U.S. — is that when streets become wider, then it gives the drivers this false sense of safety that makes them drive faster,” Hamidi explained.

Hamidi contends speed is the main cause of most crashes, and when streets are narrower, drivers tend to be more cautious. According to the study, there are 1.5 times more crashes on roads when the lane width increases from 9 to 12 feet. The report includes policy recommendations, like prioritizing street design over driving speed and functionality.

Hamidi sees another benefit to narrowing lane width as the environmental impact it can have on communities. She said less asphalt used for streets and roads equates to less heat: “Really, the cause of urban heat islands, which is one of the most challenging climate change issues of our time – all of that comes with wider lanes.”

Hamidi added city and state transportation departments could pair lane-reduction projects with other initiatives, like adding bike lanes or larger sidewalks, to make streets what she calls “more livable.”

For those worried about traffic congestion, Hamidi said narrower roads will likely slow down the speed of traffic, but that doesn’t mean there will be more traffic.

“It will help many people to switch from driving to other modes of transportation, such as biking and walking, which could result in greenhouse gas emission reductions from transportation,” she predicted.

Written by ALEX GONZALEZ, producer for Public News Service.

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